Kenyan smallholder farmers grappling with food insecurity amid dry spell


Peter Ndolo defiantly prepares his farm for planting under the scorching sun.

His farm in the arid southeastern Kenya did not yield much in the past harvest season due to inadequate rainfall and should the situation repeat itself during the year’s second rainy season that start in October, his family like many others in the region are likely to find themselves in a precarious situation.

“I am just hoping for the best because, in the last harvest, my maize plantation could only manage five bags of maize, a decline from 2019 when I had doubled. Beans on the other hand had the worst outcomes because of diseases. What I managed to sell from the harvest was very little,” Ndolo told Xinhua during a recent phone interview.

The Meteorological Department says Kenya experienced depressed short rains from October to December 2020 while this year’s March-May long rainy season was poorly distributed both in time and space.

Kenya said in February that some 1.4 million Kenyans in 23 arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL) regions were in dire need of food assistance. In the wake of the two failed seasons, the situation has now worsened with 2.1 million Kenyans living in the arid north, northeastern and coastal parts of the country in need of food aid over the next six months.

Kenya on Sept. 8 declared the ravaging drought a national disaster and the scenario is forecasted to deteriorate further with the beckoning rains for the October season expected to be below average.

The declaration is expected to pave way for resource mobilization and some humanitarian intervention.

The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA ) said that disruptions created by the pandemic such as constrained movements of food supplies, discontinuation of communal farming activities, and interruption of supply of farm inputs aggravated the situation for ASAL regions.

An ASAL region like where Ndolo lives is classified as an area whose population is generally the most food insecure on account of the levels of poverty, high vulnerability to shocks and hazards together with its aridity and rainfall variability.

“If the rains delay, I stand the risk of losing my planting seeds which do not come cheap plus all the manure that I have already fed the soil. The family might also harvest very little rainwater for domestic use,” said Ndolo. “And again the few bags of maize I have in the store are worrying me as I have to split them between my own consumption and that of the animals. Since I cannot starve my family, the animals will end up being malnourished.”

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said in August that about 87 million U.S. dollars is required between August to December to support drought interventions in the 23 ASAL counties.

Ndolo, who also farms bees on his farm with an area of 0.81 hectares, said that the change in climate is putting his venture that supplemented his farming at risk.

“When the dry period persists for longer than the bees are accustomed to, they tend to migrate, reducing in numbers. I am convinced even the quality of honey is compromised by extremely dry conditions,” said Ndolo.

Agriculture remains the backbone of Kenya’s economy and the biggest employer for rural dwellers, according to the national treasury.

A domestic economic report released this month showed that the Agriculture sector grew by 4.6 percent in 2020 compared to 2.3 percent in 2019 to withstand the harsh effects of the pandemic.

In its response to the drought situation, the government has released 18 million dollars to be utilized in mitigation measures while water tracking, cash transfers, and buying livestock constitute part of the interventions. Enditem

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